International Dark Sky Association
ORCHARD, Colo. - Jackson Lake State Park in Morgan County has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, becoming just the fifth park and eighth total location in Colorado to receive the designation and the only site located east of I-25.
The International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) program consists of roughly 150 certified IDSPs in the world, 95 of which are located in the United States and 74 of those are west of the Mississippi River. Jackson Lake becomes just the 19th state park in the country to receive the designation and the only state park in Colorado.
“It’s so exciting,” said Park Ranger Amy Brandenburg, who led Jackson Lake’s application process with the IDSP program. “It’s a new opportunity for visitors to come out and enjoy Jackson Lake.”
The process of becoming certified is rigorous. Along with making many changes to the park and working with Morgan County to eliminate light pollution, Brandenburg filled out a 37-page application that went through eight revisions. After long months and years working towards gaining accreditation, Jackson Lake was recommended by the Dark Sky Places Committee to go to IDA’s board of directors for their stamp of approval. After the mandatory 10-day waiting period, the park found out in late August it has become certified.
“It is a very challenging process, and they do not take things lightly,” Brandenburg said.
The state park has always attracted amateur astronomers, but now this designation opens up other avenues.
“I think this puts us on the map so that we’re easier for people to recognize us as a dark sky place,” Brandenburg said. “It was a unique opportunity to do that.”
Along the way the park has worked with the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society and with Mile High Astronomy, an astronomy shop in Denver. Mile High Astronomy helped the park get a Celestron telescope at a reduced price.
“It’s a fantastic telescope, it self-aligns and it has a cool keypad, so if you want to see Saturn, you just pick Saturn, and it will find it automatically in the sky,” Brandenburg said.
The application process kicked off in 2018 when the state park received a $3,000 grant from the Colorado Parks Foundation. One year later received another grant, this one for $20,000, from the Great Outdoors Colorado and it’s CPW Directors Innovation Fund. The grants allowed the state park to make the infrastructure changes necessary to become dark sky friendly.
“We worked with Morgan County Rural Electric Association to eliminate the large street lamps from the park and then we also did a ton of updates and elimination to the fixtures in the park itself,” Brandenburg said. “On the bathroom buildings, we removed, or changed out fixtures to be dark sky compliant. Inside of the bathrooms we also put the lighting in the shower houses on motion sensors.”
There are stipulations on what type of fixtures to use. Dowels should be downward facing, fully shielded, they have to be a certain color temperature and they should only be lighting things required to be lit for safety.
“The dedication that Amy, the Jackson Lake State Park staff, volunteers and donors have put in motion over the past four years is incredible and the transformation of their park is truly inspiring,” said Ryan Parker, IDA Colorado Chapter Chairman. “Jackson Lake is graced with dark nighttime skies, which have brought many amateur and expert astronomers to the park. Guests can take advantage of the vast, open night skies of the prairie individually, or through interpretive programs offered within the park.”
Other benefits to the park and its natural resources of becoming more dark sky friendly include a reduction in energy consumption and there are many benefits for wildlife.
“We found that we’ve had less interruptions from mosquitoes,” Brandenburg said. “It gives a chance to host species, like bats, that really rely on a dark night sky. Most waterfowl actually migrate at night. They use the stars and travel during the nighttime hours.”
International Dark Sky Parks in Colorado are the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Hovenweep National Monument and now Jackson Lake State Park. The International Dark Sky Cities in Colorado are Norwood, Ridgway and Westcliffe & Silver Cliff.
The IDSP was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education.
Jackson Lake State Park is located in Orchard, Colorado, adjacent to the South Platte River, approximately an hour-and-a-half northeast of Denver. The park boasts 260 campsites, hiking trails, world class water recreation and fishing, a diverse wildlife population and 5,295 acres of land and water to explore.
Jackson Reservoir was built by the South Platte Land, Reservoir and Irrigation Company in 1901 and was used for agricultural purposes for several decades. It wasn’t until 1962 that the area began to see recreational use, which prompted the State of Colorado to purchase the property around the reservoir and manage it as a hunting and fishing area. In 1965, the Colorado Game, Fish and Parks Department assumed responsibility for the recreation use, and Jackson Lake State Park was born.